the AC has a point...to a point anyway.
I mostly agree with you except about that. I don't think he really did have a point. I should have quoted him, but he said:
average car lifetime has gone down by more than a factor of 2 in the last fifty years
Now, maybe it was a typo and he meant that the lifetime went UP by a factor of 2, but I don't think that's what he meant, given the rest of what he wrote. So, I still totally disagree with his posting...
Every part manufacturer could build a more robust widget for not that significantly more cost. But if that part never needs replacing, that's at least 1 lost sale for that small increase. And because cheaper makers will undercut you, there isn't the incentive for the added cost for longer reliability; except in really niche markets.
I think this was true to some degree in the 50s,60s,70s. But the Japanese manufacturers really got into the quality thing and we saw them build extremely reliable machines. It really was an amazing turn around - Japan had previously been known for junk and they really became (and still are) the gold standard of reliability (or at least Honda and Toyota are).
It's interesting to examine planned obsolescence, because I don't really believe that's what we're seeing in automobiles today. There is a subtle difference between designing parts to a finite lifetime because to design the part for a longer lifetime would cost more, or weigh more, or have some other negative engineering side effect, and designing the part to have a worse lifetime on purpose to help foster replacement. I also tend to think that planned obsolescence is only for markets which have basically gotten the engineering to "good enough". As long as manufacturers can improve the product in a meaningful way, people will continue to upgrade. When your washing machine gets your clothes perfectly clean, in minimum time, using minimum water, etc. etc., what is the incentive to upgrade? That's when planned obsolescence becomes necessary to keep sales going. Wikipedia says:
Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time. The rationale behind the strategy is to generate long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases (referred to as "shortening the replacement cycle").
That's not the same as saying, "let's use more plastic parts over metal to reduce the cost of this machine". That's a more legitimate marketplace strategy. Planned obsolescence says "ok, you have a great part there Mr. Engineer, but we need this engine to throw a rod every 60,000 miles on average so that the owner will replace the car. Make the walls of the part a little thinner so that it will fail more frequently". Of course it's probably not usually so blatant. It's most likely that the manufacturer tries to reduce the price/weight/whatever and... the fact that the reliability went down is okay, wink wink.
If you think about it, that's exactly the opposite of what the Japanese did (and what Miele claims to do, but Miele doesn't really pull it off). They analyzed how their cars and their assembly lines fail, identify the weakness, and address it. That's how we got from 60,000 mile to 300,000 mile cars. The thing is, that as long as they are doing that, nobody else can do planned obsolescence via reliability of their cars, because if a Honda Civic will go 300,000 miles, but your Volkswagen will only go 60,000 miles, you won't sell many Volkswagens.
For the last decade, cars have been on a trajectory of increased computer connectivity and gadgets, increased safety via more and more airbags (and better chassis design for survivability) and more power (in 2005 my 305 hp Subaru was one of the most powerful cars on the road, now there are plenty of cars out there with 300, 400, 500 hp engines). I think that has pretty much played out.
Now we have electrification via hybrids, plug in hybrids, and BEVs. Being a new technology, they will continue to improve rapidly over the next decade and so they won't need planned obsolescence to sell - people will want to upgrade to the car with more range, or better battery electronics, or whatever. So until BEVs mature, we won't need planned obsolescence to keep selling them.